Maher - the unsung hero driving Tipp
SOME players lord it over the scoreboard and consequently hog all the headlines. Then you have Patrick Maher.
He may possess a head-grabbing nickname - the ubiquitous 'Bonner' - but he will seldom outscore Séamus Callanan or John O'Dwyer. Nor will he create waves like Noel McGrath or Lar Corbett in their full majestic pomp.
But is he any less central to Tipperary's cause? Or would Eamon O'Shea happily go into All-Ireland battle against Kilkenny this Sunday without his trusty soldier manning the trenches on the '40' and then pushing deep behind enemy lines?
In three words ... don't be daft.
Maher came close to disaster when Tipp faced Cork in that ultimately lopsided all-Munster All-Ireland semi-final. He suffered a freak rib injury during the warm-up. As the match unfolded, the pain kept rising.
"When you're playing in an All-Ireland semi-final and you're winning, you don't really want to leave the field," he explained. "So I just ground it out." For 63 minutes.
Afterwards, O'Shea sounded pretty underwhelmed by the performance of Tipperary's attack (despite his team scoring 2-18, 2-17 from play) but he was positively gushing about one of his forwards who didn't score at all. "Bonner was extraordinary," the Tipp boss declared.
"And the reason he was extraordinary was, he was injured early on in the game. And he played with a lot of pain. In fact, we could have taken him off earlier. But every time we wanted to take him off, he was showing for another ball.
"I mean the man is extraordinary, not just as an athlete. He's a phenomenal player. He plays the game the way it should be played."
Suffice to say, O'Shea is a fan. Moreover, after Maher pronounced himself "100pc" fit just eight days after the semi-final, his will be among the first names on the All-Ireland team-sheet announced by Tipp tonight.
As alluded to earlier, 'Bonner' is not noted for shooting the lights out but he does possess an eye for goal: he bagged a brace against Clare in this year's league semi-final and followed up with goals in their early Munster exit to Limerick and qualifier against Offaly.
Having made his SHC debut against Wexford in 2010, he has tallied 3-6 in 21 championship appearances with 60pc of that princely total - 2-3 - accumulated during Tipp's five-match run to this year's decider.
Yet it's his voracious capacity for work, to win hard ball and then drive at the heart of the opposing defence, that makes the player so pivotal. Against Cork, having switched to corner-forward because he was struggling to run with the pain, he still managed to set up a goal chance (Corbett failing to control his pass), make the high catch that led to a Callanan point, then lay on the assists for Callanan's second goal and O'Dwyer's fourth point.
Having enlisted in the Defence Forces, there was a theory that army training had affected his form graph last season. The Lorrha and Dorrha man insists otherwise.
"Last year wasn't the best year I ever had in a county jersey," he readily concedes. "You could blame a lot of things but I don't blame anything. It was just an off-year ... everyone goes through a bad patch, last year was mine."
He then adds: "The training I was doing was difficult, and being away from the set-up myself when I was pursuing my career, but it wasn't my job that was affecting my hurling."
This year, such was his form as Tipperary reached the league final only to lose yet another epic tussle with Kilkenny that Bonner was being touted as a potential Hurler of the Year. The likes of his forward colleague Callanan and Kilkenny's Richie Hogan may have now usurped him in the betting, but a first All Star surely beckons.
Reflecting on their loss to Limerick in June, he says: "We were all gutted after it. The mood in the dressing-room was very bad - but we picked ourselves up and said we could either dwell on the past which is no good to anyone or we can drive on and start working harder."
Maher will turn 25 next month. Before then he will face into his third All-Ireland final against Kilkenny - or fourth, if you include his non-playing role in 2009. Tipp prevailed in 2010 but, otherwise, this rivalry has been a tale of Black-and-Amber dominance.
"I approach every game the same," he maintains. "The fact that we are playing Kilkenny is nothing to me." Apart from the fact, he adds, that "they bring the best out of us and we bring the best out of them."
In which case, with this self-confessed car enthusiast at the wheel, fasten your seat belts.